How to clean, repair and revive your books

Don't panic if you have a book that is damaged, musty or dusty — try these tips to revive the state of your precious reading material.

How to clean, repair and revive your books

1. Remove grease stains from books

  • If someone has left greasy fingerprints on one of your cherished cloth books, you can usually remove the stains by rubbing over them with a piece of stale bread.
  • Another method is to sprinkle some baking soda or cornstarch (or baby powder with cornstarch) over the marks and let it sit overnight.
  • The following morning, remove the powder with a soft, clean camel hair or cosmetics brush and the stains should go along with it.

2. Watch out for mould

  • If you see active, moist-looking mould growing on your books, don't attempt to remove it yourself. Instead, carefully enclose each mouldy item in plastic and contact a restorer or conservator.
  • Mould spores are very difficult to remove completely, and they can be spread through the air to put other books and nearby works at risk.
  • In addition, some forms of mould can cause acute respiratory problems in humans and their pets. Be sure to wipe the shelves with a mild bleach solution.

3. Get rid of musty odours

  • Librarians sometimes use charcoal to get rid of musty odours on old books, and you can, too.
  • If you keep your books in a glass-enclosed bookcase, it may be trapping moisture inside that can provide a welcome environment for mould and mildew.
  • You can eliminate any excess humidity and keep your books dry and mould-free by placing one or two charcoal briquettes or some deactivated charcoal in a small bowl inside.
  • Be sure to replace it with fresh charcoal every two to three months.

4. Other ways to end musty smells

  • If you detect a musty smell from your books or papers in storage, but don't see any mould or mildew, try thoroughly drying both the objects and the storage area using fans or space heaters or opening windows for a few hours until the odour is gone.
  • You can also eliminate musty odours from books and papers by sealing them in an enclosed chamber.
  • Place a plastic garbage liner inside a clean garbage can. Pour in about one kilogram (four cups) of odour-absorbing cat litter or baking soda.
  • Then insert another liner over the first, and add the books or papers. Close the lid, and leave it in a cool, dry space until the odour dissipates. (It may take a few days.)

5. Give dust the brush off

  • Dust is not only unattractive; it can soil paper and book bindings. And it can also attract insects and promote mould growth.
  • That's why it's so important to regularly dust your books.
  • Light strokes with a soft, clean shaving brush or artist's paintbrush usually work better than a cloth or feather duster (which often just spreads the dust from one object to another).

6. Take care if you vacuum books

  • You can also use a vacuum cleaner to remove dust from books, but if you do, place a piece of nylon stocking or cheesecloth over the end of the hose nozzle.
  • This will prevent pieces of paper or binding from coming loose or being sucked into the vacuum cleaner.
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